Monday, March 14, 2016

Daddy Cool’s “Dali” rocks off

I kind of like the long version of this obit - too long for Fairfax's mastheads, but here it is for anyone interested in longer form raves and Hanna. The shorter version has been published at the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, See you in the sky, big guy.

Guitarist, singer and visual artist
1 December 1950 – 8 March 2016

To Daddy Cool bass player Wayne Duncan, Ross “Hanna” Hannaford was far more than just his eccentric DC band-mate since 1970. “He was the Salvador Dali of Australian rock”, said Duncan. “Everything he did, he did his way. Every guitar he had, he would adapt and change – he’d paint over it and make it a Ross Hannaford, an art object.”

For instance most guitarists have standardised sound effects pedal boards to stomp on. Hanna’s, however, another regular collaborator, Shane Howard, of Goanna, confirmed, were “like fantastic landscape paintings with artificial turf.” Howard recalled the lanky player rocking up for a session, his guitar painted in “reggae rainbow outbursts.” He’d be wearing “his fluoro vest, Afghani hat and some Blundstone boots painted gold – the full dude.

“Ross was a contrarian”, said Howard. “But he was very generous to me. I learnt how to write, to tailor stuff that was in his frame of reference. The way he played was always surprisingly and moving and it came from a very deep place. Ross’ sense of tone– it felt right. It was always right. There was a fearlessness to him.”

But it wasn’t always so.

Ross Andrew Hannaford was born at Mayfield Hospital in Newcastle, New South Wales. Although both his mother Winifred “Win” (neé Johnson) and father Alan “Al” Hannaford had grown up in Melbourne, Al had taken a three year posting with Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) in Newcastle as an engineer. Struggling with a difficult workplace, unable to see much of his family, Al suffered a nervous breakdown. The Hannafords returned to Melbourne and a better life when Ross was one and a half, managing a motel and a caravan park.

Ross only had one sibling, Ian, older by four years. Their parents lived into their 90s; both have died now. “My brother was a very shy kid,” said Ian. “He used to love diving, but as a baby he’d suffered perforated ear drums – perhaps from ear infections – so he’d been ordered to stop.”

Compromised hearing or not, from the age of four, Hannaford regularly asked his parents for a guitar. “When I was eight, I could hold one,” he explains, in the documentary Hanna in a Nutshell (Haydn Keenan, 2015) “so I got one and some lessons.” Then came musical theory. “I can't teach him,” his ABC Academy teacher announced finally. “But he can play.” For Hannaford, the education system was “a nightmare.” At Cheltenham Primary School, a teacher terrorised him. Then he went to Brighton High, Mentone Grammar, Prahran Tech and RMIT.

At 12 Ross Hannaford was playing banjo in a kid jazz band and also guitar in his R&B band The Fauves. He was short, fat and wore bottle-thick glasses. Three years above him at school was Keith Glass, a muso who’d go on to form Missing Link Records and manage the Birthday Party. “When The Fauves played we all went along to a local church hall and watched them”, Glass recalled. “I remember being astonished at the sound and natural technique Ross [Hannaford] had with a cheap Canora acoustic guitar with an equally cheap Ibenez pickup shoved in the sound hole.”

Meanwhile Hanna saw Wilson playing blues harp with Glass's band (The Group/The Rising Sons) around the same time. “I think it was 1963,” said Wilson. “He wasn't quite 13. His parents didn't know what to do with him. He used to play practical jokes and get into trouble. He liked to hang out with older kids, driving in their utes to gigs. One time, they got hold of a store dummy and laid it down on Beach Road. Everybody was running over it, they thought it was very funny.

“By then he was also a budding artist. His work even from that time was quite accomplished”, said Wilson. They used to listen to blues records together. “Got into early John Lee Hooker. We went wow - he could just make stuff up. So that's what we did too,” said Wilson. The two boys were made for each other from the word go. “Yeah we could bounce off each other. We felt we knew what the other one was going to do next. We would naturally go to harmonies without even thinking about it,” said Wilson. They formed the garage R&B band Pink Finks; combining two kids from Wilson’s school Haileybury College and three from Hanna’s Brighton High. When they released “Louie Louie” it shot to number 15 on the 3DB charts! Ian remembers driving the Finks around in Al’s old Morris Minor. “Twenty minutes here, twenty minutes there. At Mentone Town Hall, they played with the Easybeats!”

The Pink Finks (‘64-6) led to Party Machine (’67-9), whose songbook, including Wilson’s “I Don't Believe All Your Kids Should Be Virgins", was pulped by the Victorian Vice Squad. The brass-sectioned Sons of the Vegetal Mother (’69-‘71) gave birth to Daddy Cool (’70-3, with occasional reunions); followed by the tougher Mighty Kong (’73).

It was at a Sons of the Vegetal Mothers’ gig at a Glenelg theatre that DC debuted. When the support act cancelled, Wilson, Hanna, Gary Young and Wayne Duncan raided the theatre’s dress-ups and blew themselves off stage.

With pre-Whitlam Australia conscripting for Vietnam, our youth needed Hanna boogieing, lop-sided tongue sticking out. Daddy Cool freaked out school principals playing “Baby Let Me Bang Your Box” then toured the nation’s universities. “Eagle Rock”, our first original gold rock single, topped Go-Set’s national chart for months. Meanwhile Daddy Who? Daddy Cool, recorded in two and a half days, became our biggest-selling (100,000) original rock LP. Hit second album Sex, Dope & Rock’n’Roll: Teenage Heaven (’72) featured Hanna’s own lipstick kisses on a cover he co-designed. After such events it seemed bizarre that Daddy Cool recorded The Last Drive-In Movie Show in August 1972 at the Much More Ballroom, as a final hurrah.

“We were just so confident,” said Hanna. “We were just on a roll. You couldn't do nothing wrong for two years. Then I remember playing this gig in Perth and Wilson has just produced Skyhooks and they were the flavour of the month and you know – it's gone. And then I heard reggae … The guitar becomes sort of part of the rhythm section. It's a continuous motion … I just fell in love with reggae.”

His next main venture was Billy T (’75-‘78), formed with Joe Creighton (Band of Angels). Some members, including Hannaford, were mediation devotees (rather than religious, per se, although they did play overseas for the Divine Light Mission’s Maharaj Ji). After that, Hanna played reggae with Lucky Dog, wrote songs and had stints with Renee Geyer, Ian Moss, the Black Sorrows and Paul Madigan and the Humans. His many sessions included a fine solo on ‘Razor’s Edge’, the second single from Goanna’s first album Spirit of Place (1982). He also played on that band’s Oceania (’85) as well as Goanna singer-songwriter Shane Howard’s solo albums River (’90) and Time Will Tell (’93.

Hanna’s own band Dianna Kiss had a Monday night residency at the Espy (Esplanade Hotel, St Kilda) that stretched for around 11 years. Bass player Stephen Hadley (Men at Work) took Booker T. and the MGs guitarist Steve “Blues Brothers” Cropper along there once. According to Hadley, Cropper said Ross Hannaford was the best guitar player he’d ever heard.

Another review came from Peter “Lucky” Luscombe (RocKwiz Orchestra), who in ’92 was drumming with Bob Dylan’s Melbourne support act, Chris Wilson. Befriending Dylan’s guitarists, Luscombe took them to see Hanna play. Bucky Baxter and John “J.J.” Jackson listened for a while. Then Bucky drawled to Lucky, "If Bob saw this guy, we'd be out of a job!”

In 2015 Ross Hannaford was diagnosed with spreading liver cancer and given three months to live. He tried to keep it quiet. However people felt money needed to be raised for his medical costs, and tributes made. A stellar line-up played two nights at the Memo that July, organised by Hanna’s long-term right-hand-man Ang (Angelo Andrianakis), industry stalwarts Ian Lovell and Judi Kenneally, Memo’s Peter Foley and musical director James Black.

Gary Young was watching when Hanna was introduced by Brian Nankervis. “You could've heard a pin drop,” said Young. “Hanna uses a cigarette lighter as a slide on his guitar and it took a lot of time for him to get that that out.” Touched, he soon realised Hanna had been on stage for three minutes in total silence. “But everybody was still quiet. No-one complained.”

By late 2015, with the aid of medical cannabis oil, Hanna was feeling much better. He was able to squeeze out two last, sold-out, 90 minute Ross Hannaford and the Critters shows at the Caravan Club. His final gig, December 15, was his HANNA album launch. And since Ang had organised him finally his collection of rare recordings, as well as his last, became available online.

And Hanna was up and about, lucid, enjoying working on his music and riding round in Ang’s car. Until his last day, when he took to bed. Ang put on Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. “And then the trumpet starts up,” said Ang, “and Hanna’s hands come up off the bed, and he’s conducting the band and the trumpet.”

Hanna had his wife, Lorraine Austin, who kept him home and cared for him, and daughter Billi, from his first marriage to Toni, by his side in his final hours. He died painlessly and at peace, at home.

Monday, August 24, 2015

GEOFF SHELLAM Microbiologist, immunologist 12.8.1943 – 2.7.2015

Backpacker became gentleman scientist who scaled the heights in immunological research
Jen Jewel Brown
Photo by Mary Moore
Sadly, a wonderful man was lost to my family recently. Geoff Shellam was grandfather to my two great nephews. With the help of the family and his friends and colleagues, I was privileged to be able to write his obituary for The Age. This is a slightly longer version than the one which ran in the paper.

Fiona Stanley first really noticed her future husband Geoff Shellam when he was best man at her brother Richard’s Toorak wedding. Shellam seemed very formal, even wearing silk gloves. Stanley, on the other hand, was a radical, attending lots of “Black Power” meetings in those days. She was wearing a cotton frock, her hair untrimmed for years. It was quite a contrast.

However some time later, while she was planning to rough it through some very unpredictable trans-continental travel, she was surprised to receive a letter from Shellam, announcing he was planning to backpack through Asia too. They met up in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, then part of the Soviet Union, in 1972. Eventually they became more than friends, marrying the following year.

Professor Geoffrey Randolph Shellam was part of the top immunology group in his area internationally, leading teams investigating how the immune system responds to infections and cancer. He grew up in Victoria, as a boy moving with his parents and younger sister Margaret from Warrnambool to Bendigo. He went to Bendigo High then majored in microbiology and biochemistry at the University of Melbourne. After winning a cadetship with CSL (Commonwealth Serum Laboratories) in Melbourne in 1962, he was awarded their Cadetship Prize in 1965.

He became the first PhD student supervised by Sir Gus Nossal, the incoming Director of Melbourne University’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, the same year. Writing in his final days, Shellam recalled how Nossal’s excitement “made everything that you ever thought you’d dreamed of look second rate. His eyes were leaping out of his sockets.” For 100 years – and continuing today – Australia’s oldest research institute has contributed to medical breakthroughs and much internationally-recognised work. Nossal (who would be named Australian of the Year in 2000, for his contributions to science and the reconciliation movement) was only 34 when he took over, following 21 years at the helm by Nobel Prize-winning virologist Sir Frank (known by his middle name, Macfarlane) Burnet.

Shellam earned his PhD – Induction of immunological tolerance in adult and newborn animals – at the Hall Institute in 1969. He wrote he had “a scientific awakening” while completing it. “I saw the enormous power of working within a good collaborative group with a strong intellectual grounding ... It also made me understand the importance of having sufficient funds.” (Remarkably, Shellam’s lifetime of important studies would win funding for his entire career.)

Dr Chris Goodnow, President of the Australasian Society for Immunology, describes Professor Shellam in the ASI’s website tribute as “a pioneer and world leader in immunogenetics, particularly the interaction between mouse cytomegalovirus [persistent herpesvirus infections] and the immune system.” (Shellam worked with CSIRO scientist Grant Singleton on the problem of mouse plagues from 1989 and through the 90s, successfully triggering mouse infertility via the animals’ own immune responses to introduced pathogens.) Shellam had a long history with the ASI. He won their award for Victorian Best Final Year Student in Microbiology at 22, decades later becoming President to oversee its expansion from “Australian” to “Australasian” between 1991-2. He also initiated the society’s acquisition of their flagship journal Immunology and Cell Biology, now part of the Nature Group of science journals with a board sourced from every continent. He received ASI’s Distinguished Service Award in ’96 and was made an Honorary Life Member in 2012.

Staring his post-doctorate studies, he was awarded the first of many fellowships in 1973. The tall, gentlemanly scientist with a deep love of literature and classical music headed to University College, London to work with another inspirational mentor, Professor Nicholas Avrion "Av" Mitchison, at the Tumour Immunology Unit of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund Laboratories. There he studied immune responses in rats, focusing on the newly-described NK (Natural Killer) cells and their innate ability to fight cancer. Bestowed with a prestigious Eleanor Roosevelt International Cancer Fellowship by the International Union against Cancer, Geneva, Switzerland, he then spent 1976 hard at work at the Immunology Branch of the National Cancer Institute, National Institute of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA.

Next Shellam headed back to his birth state, WA, in ’77. Before growing up and gaining his PhD in Victoria, he had been born a fifth-generation West Australian in Kalgoorlie, to Girl Guide leader Norah (née Stow) and bank manager Herbert Shellam. Now taking up a Postdoctoral Fellowship for research in the Department of Microbiology at the University of West Australia, he settled down with his family and stayed at the university to extend his teaching, researching and administrative career.

Another scientific area of international concern that Shellam pursued was arboviruses (arthropod-borne viruses) such as Dengue Fever, Ross River Virus and Murray Valley Encephalitis, often carried by mosquitoes. Shellam’s father-in-law, the outstanding microbiologist Professor Neville Stanley, had set up a monitoring system in West Australia. Shellam extended the area of research to create an expert team, complimenting spraying by testing blood samples from “sentinel chickens” to check the regional spread of the viruses. Shellam and Drs Hugh Jones and Graham Budd also worked on Subantarctic islands on the microbiology of penguins.

Shellam was held in great regard as Professor of Microbiology and a top administrator, research leader and teacher at UWA for 30 years (since 1985). He was Head of the Department of Microbiology there between 1985-90; Head of the Discipline of Microbiology and Immunology, School of Biomedical, Biomolecular and Chemical Sciences between 2002-5; and Co-Director – alongside Nobel Laureate Professor Barry Marshall – of the university’s Marshall Centre for Infectious Diseases Research and Training since 2007.

That year he initiated and developed the Infectious Diseases course for the students who came from all over the world to study at UWA, aiming to equip them to contribute to the international understanding and control of existing and emerging infectious diseases. These include bird flu, SARS, West Nile virus, HIV/AIDS, Malaria, Viral hepatitis, Influenza, Tuberculosis, Dengue and Japanese encephalitis. Concerns of germ warfare and the rise of global terrorism – as well as global climate change altering disease patterns worldwide – underpinned his development of the Graduate Diploma and Master of Infectious Diseases courses. Shellam, recognised as an outstanding teacher, taught subjects directly, as well as taking great interest in every Masters student enrolling in the coming semester.

He died at home in Nedlands, West Australia, of cancer, at 71. His wife of nearly 42 years, Fiona Stanley, and children, daughters Hallie and Tiffany Shellam, were by his side. He had just cleared up his fountain pens and closed his office, formally retiring two days earlier. Shellam is survived by Stanley (Australian of the Year, in 2003, for her advocacy for science in improving child and Aboriginal health); Hallie and Tiffany and their families. Although deeply missed, he will be remembered through the Shellam Fund for Research in Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, supporting researchers of the future at the University of Western Australia.

Melbourne writer Jen Jewel Brown is part of the extended family.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Saving the Palace Theatre, top of Bourke St

There is such a battle underway in the city of Melbourne. The battle to save the Palace. Let's hope it's not too late. Photo of interiors removed in November just before a heritage report on them to the City of Melbourne recommended their protection, taken by Jessica Adams of Australian Music Museum Project (AMMP) Here's a story I co-wrote in the Age with Aisha Dow on the issue, and the history of the Palace Theatre site, stretching back to the Gold Rush and 1954.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Rock Country

Being included in a great big brick of a book called Rock Country is a turn-on. One thing I love is a good editor, and Christian Ryan goes the extra kilometre. My story is about Michael Hutchence, Ollie Olsen, Max Q... and was Michael happy? Some of my favourite pieces are Clinton Walker on Barry Gibb, Jeff Jenkins on early Ian 'Molly' Meldrum and... well most of them. And then there's the photos, oh God the photos. There's never been such a wild and ambitious compendium on Australian music history. So do yourself a Molly, and buy someone one for Christmas.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Happy birthday Bobby Kennedy

Happy birthday Robert F. Kennedy. You would have been 87. "Few will have the greatness to bend history; but each of us can work to change a small portion of the events, and in the total of all these acts will be written the history of this generation...It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is thus shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." Day of Affirmation Address, University of Capetown, South Africa, June 6, 1966.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hey sports fans, One of the things I have the pleasure of doing from time to time, outside of journalism and teaching and of course my own writing, is writing stuff for other people. This can be really fun, like '... in-depth liner notes'(with David Laing trading licks in spots) of double CD Boogie! , 'by Jen Jewel Brown who, as Jenny Brown and Jenny Hunter Brown, was one of the most incisive Australian rock critics of the day.' Thanks guys, but 'of the day!' I aint dead yet! But it was really great to be able to talk about this sizzling double CD of Australian gems, 'compiled by David Laing, who anthologised Australian garage rock of the punk-era and beyond with the acclaimed Do The Pop! compilation some years ago.' The set includes gem-like relative obscurantis like Buffalo, Kahvas Jute and Band of Light as well as the more recognised Stevie Wright, Daddy Cool, the Hooks, Sports, Jo Jo Zep & the Falcons and so much more. Pop-up appearances by me, including on ABC radio; both 774 (with sporty ex-Novocastrian Lindy Burns)and RN in The Drawing Room with Mr Ubiquitous Waleed Aly and my great value ex-housemate Ross Wilson. The hot pressing and fabbo Ian McCausland cover package booklet of Boogie! make it a unique class act. More, Warners, more! Glad it's selling well for you. Cool Baby Boomers Xmas gift for sure. And right along track with my aim of seeking to have us remember our great arts creators from times past in my ongoing Australian Arts Living Museum Project...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


LIVING MUSIC SHOWCASE: CHOICE AS ‘Raw, real and beautiful…’’ ‘Out there talent.’ ‘Brilliant collaboration. ‘Authenticity.’ - Audience comments from last year’s Living Music show ‘No Place Like Home’ * HIGHLY COMMENDED Melbourne Fringe Festival Awards 2011* REVOLT - 12 Elizabeth St Kensington - Melbourne Fringe Venue of the Year 2011 27-28 September – (Thurs 27 Sept 6pm & Fri 28 Sept 3pm & 6pm) Living Music Showcase: Choice As is an original Fringe debut that mashes up music, multimedia and theatre, written and performed by participants as young as fourteen. Many of them have been facing family violence, uncertain housing and youth detention. Some songs were actually written inside Victorian Youth Justice Centres Malmsbury and Parkville Precinct. Last year, Living Music’s show won a Highly Commended Music gong at Fringe, and 2012’s Choice As is sounding just as impressive. Come witness how even the hardest road can rise, with music, in one of the three Living Music Showcase: Choice As shows at REVOLT in Kensington 27-28 September.
Living Music’s highly effective youth mentorship program has been operating since 1999 under artistic director Andrew McSweeney, himself a singer/songwriter/producer. Mentors like indie hip hop producer Julez (discovered byTriple J’s Unearthed in 2008) help fledgling artists build confidence and see new possibilities through self-expression, enterprise, teamwork and accomplishment. The standard is high. McSweeney and a range of other muso mentors like Pete Satchell (Dallas Crane), Thomas Butt and MC Pat Marks (Pataphysics) have helped nurture great songs from Living Music Showcase: Choice As contributors like nineteen year old Big Bear, whose ‘Back Then’ - so honest it shocks - is moving and melodic with its straying piano, strings and beats. Lil Darcy’s audacious ‘One In 7 Billion’ (featuring Toxman and Julez) throws up lyrics like ‘shark’s meat’, ‘fresh allegations’ and ‘voice box is under persuasion’ over organ grinder keyboards and loping horns. There’s a big slice of Islander R&B from various participants; stories that reach out with humour, honesty and verve. Living Music Showcase: Choice As also features film and projections, with participants in the thick of it, getting skilled-up. Fourteen-year-old Lil Darcy: ‘When I was in Parkville [Youth Justice Precinct], which is like a boys’ home, they gave me the number for Living Music. It’s a good program. I’m pretty pleased with my producer Julez; he’s the best.’ Other mentors working on Living Music Showcase: Choice As include writers Simon McSweeney and Rebecca Lister, Dan Ryan kicking in with film and visual arts, and movement expert Dominique Miller.
Living Music Showcase: Choice Is CONTAINS GRIT HOPE AND INVENTION: HANDLE WITH CARE. Focus issues: social issues, youth, justice system, multimedia, music, education. Enquiries LIVING MUSIC Ph 03 9329 0503 Fax 03 9329 7857 53 Little Baillie St, North Melbourne PO Box 880, North Melbourne 3051 Email Living Music including First Sunday All Ages Open Mic at REVOLT The Living Music Radio 3CR Mondays 3-4pm Living Music is a part of Living Learning Australia which assists the development of disadvantaged young learners through cooperation in artistic, environmental and community building endeavours.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

RIP ANDREW McMILLAN - Writer committed to life in Top End

ANDREW McMILLAN AUSTRALIAN WRITER 29-12-1957 - 28-01-2012. Just realised I hadn't put the obituary I had the honour of writing for author, journo and mate Andrew McMillan up here. So here t'is ... From the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. ANDREW McMillan, lanky, soft-spoken author of five published non-fiction books crucial to Australia's history, has died peacefully at home with friends in Darwin. He was 54. The evening of his death was the first day he hadn't been able to get out of bed to enjoy the tropical breeze on the patio of ''the hacienda'', as he called it, at Darwin's Marrakai apartments. After his terminal cancer diagnosis in February 2011, McMillan adopted a ''party on'' palliative approach as a stream of local and fly-in friends came to visit, sharing drinks and stories. Among them were the musicians Paul Kelly, Ed Kuepper (the Saints), federal Education Minister and former Midnight Oil singer Peter Garrett, Rob Hirst (also Midnight Oil) and Don Walker (Cold Chisel). As a RAM (Rock Australia Magazine) reporter from age 17 and a widely published freelancer, McMillan had been instrumental in all these careers. His patient, ironic openness and probing eye had made them lifelong friends. An only child, Andrew McMillan was born in Melbourne with a hare lip and cleft palate. He moved with his parents, John (a public servant ) and Lorna McMillan (a former nursing sister) to Brisbane at three. He attended Oakleigh State School and later Brisbane Grammar, where he was bullied over his appearance. A shy boy speaking in a near whisper with a lisp, he underwent repeated bouts of lip and palate surgery into his early teens. McMillan discovered seminal punk band the Saints in Brisbane, selling two stories about them to Britain's influential Sounds in 1976. Joining the RAM staff in July 1977, he moved to Sydney. There he helped break unashamedly Australian bands like Cold Chisel and Midnight Oil, who sang with political awareness about ordinary Australian lives, in the suburbs, by the shores, in the country towns and outback lands. He hitch-hiked all over the mainland.There were important relationships in Sydney and 'a subsequent roll-call of steamy liaisons in Darwin and beyond', but no children. Influenced by New Journalism and the subjective, gonzo techniques of Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe, the young McMillan reported the youth-rally-like reception in the pubs for the Angels, Radio Birdman and others from the late '70s through the '80s. His reportage from the road with Warumpi Band and Midnight Oil reflected his shock at conditions in the interior, leading to his first book, Strict Rules (1988). That year he paddled 300 kilometres of the flooding Darling River in New South Wales and moved to Darwin, ramping up a lifelong engagement with indigenous music and affairs. McMillan's quiet ability to listen, watch and simply report the complex truth from the inside, earned him respect. He became media liaison officer for Yothu Yindi's Garma Festival. In January 1990 he visited East Timor for a holiday gone wrong, finding himself soon testifying at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva about mass killings of pro-independence demonstrators and starting a second book (Death in Dili, 1992). His following books include the beautiful story of our incredible flying boats in World War II, Catalina Dreaming (2002), Tiwi Footy (2008) and An Intruder's Guide to East Arnhem Land (2001), the 2009 reprint of which won the inaugural NT Chief Minister's Book of the Year. An award-winning poet, he earned songwriting royalties from songs co-written with Kitto and Neil Murray. McMillan had been living in Darwin at ''the bunker'', a flood-prone bolt-hole where he sweated over manuscripts now archived with the NT Library. Alas, the place offered poor sanctuary from the wet season for a previously bushie-tough, now frail fellow riddled with liver and bowel cancer. In support, his friends organised a benefit and art auction, raising $20,000 to install him at the more comfortable Marrakai for Christmas 2010. McMillan, meanwhile, worked steadily. He oversaw a theatre adaptation of An Intruder's Guide to East Arnhem Land and followed roads and dirt tracks inland with friends, deep into the Northern Territory country that was so precious to him. There he selected a last resting place beside a remote billabong at Larrimah. McMillan is survived by his mother, Lorna, and his extended family. He outlived his prognosis by four months, completing in that time an EP of music and spoken word for Laughing Outlaw Records, and a sixth book, a compilation of his journalism. Both will be released posthumously. The author's estate and royalties now go to the McMillan Fund, administered by the NT Writers Centre. The author is a Melbourne writer and ex-RAM colleague of McMillan's. Jen Jewel Brown February 07, 2012

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Lisa Bellear-shaped hole in the universe

Warning image and name of a deceased person .... Vale Lisa Bellear. Photo: Antoinette Braybrook May 2 was the birthday of black poet and razzle dazzle woman, photographic historian, teacher, agitator, comedienne, writer,out lesbian ... and instigator and co-writer (with John Harding and Gary Foley) of the amazing street theatre work The Dirty Mile, staged at various times by Ilbijerri Theatre Company in and around Gertrude Street Fitzroy. She was a friend of mine and like thousands more, I miss her. She died far too early unexpectedly in bed in her sleep at 45. The other day I found something I wrote about her and thought I'd put it up here... Title also links to an obituary I wrote just after she died (July 6 2006). 'I only met Lisa Bellear a few brief years before she died. She featured at a gig I ran for Overload Poetry festival at St Kilda's Linden Gallery, which had previously exhibited her photography. There were two great things about this. One, I got to drive car-less Lisa from her home in the People's Republic of Moreland (Brunswick) to the gig, and get to know her, and two, she was very good. She had a nose for tokenism balanced by an appetite for poetry and performance. Her presence was warm, with bear-like qualities - both cuddly and terrifying at the same time. A mate of hers called her 'the general' and I could get with that - you know, if you were lacklustre with words she would be onto it like a dingo onto a pizzly wether (sick sheep), cutting out the crap. She'd tell you the blackfella point of view and a bit of the history, and you'd know the scars were still a bit raw. Then she'd crack a wicked take on it and raw would become roar - she'd be a woman laughing with another woman in a little car cutting across the Yarra on the way back home after a gig.'

Thursday, April 12, 2012

JL Obit, The Age 10.4.12


1-3-1937 - 2-4-2012


JIMMY "Gentleman Jim" Little, Australia's first indigenous top 10 recording artist, has died in his sleep at his home in Dubbo, aged 75. His doctor suspected heart failure, following years of ill health caused by diabetes and kidney failure that led to an organ transplant in 2004.

After living for years in Sydney's industrial Lilyfield, Little had retired to live in Dubbo in the house he'd always wanted for his family, with lemon and orange trees he'd dreamed of out the back.

Trees were important to the singer-songwriter and his wife, Marjorie-Rose (nee Peters), who had picked the Dubbo house because of its tree-lined street. Sadly, she died just two weeks before their 55th anniversary last July.

The charming, mellifluous-voiced man of faith who would scale musical heights over seven decades, was born under a tree, to his mother Frances (nee McGee) and father James Edward "Kunkas" Little, near the Dhungala (Murray River) at Cumeragunja Station. He was a descendant and elder of the Yorta Yorta and the Yuin/Monaro peoples.

His first crib was a suitcase. The family hut was made of hessian bags, mud and newspaper. "The best way to describe it," Little said, "was highly flammable." His family followed the river and work, picking fruit, singing and playing with the Wallaga Gumleaf Band and at indigenous vaudeville shows.

At 18 months, first-born Little joined his parents and hundreds of others in the 1939 Cumeragunja Walk-Off, the first Aboriginal strike in history, over draconian conditions imposed by the Aborigines Protection Board. Disease was prevalent. Two of Little's six siblings died from tuberculosis. His mother also died, suddenly, of tetanus from a cut by an oyster shell.

Little was 13 years old and Auntie Jane helped care for the remaining five kids to stop the Aborigines Welfare Board taking them away. He attended "Cumera" Aboriginal School, Terara Public School in Nowra and Maruya Catholic School, but left at 15 and found work at a cordial factory in Nowra.

At age 16, he jumped on the back of a Sydney-bound truck to enter Australia's Amateur Hour radio talent show on radio 2GB, coming second. He formed the Continental Duo, and then the Jimmy Little Trio; the group did the town hall circuit, dances and concerts with an all-indigenous line-up.

At age 17, he met Marjorie-Rose at a barn dance, and after a three-year courtship he produced a ring but was too scared to pop the question; "Marje" just slipped it on her finger. Later, strapped for cash, he sold his beloved guitar to pay for the wedding dress.

The couple shared a house at the top of notorious Eveleigh Street in Redfern, Sydney, and their only child, historian and filmmaker Frances Claire Peters-Little, was born when he was 20. Later, when Frances became a single mother to James Henry (now a musician and performer), she said Marje told her "We'll all raise him" so the three of them did, and her father became "a loving father to my son".

Little signed a contract with EMI in 1956, and in 1963, after 17 singles, his sweetly arranged Royal Telephone hit No.1 in Sydney for Festival Records and notched triple gold.

But for some Aboriginal radicals, Little was too quiet in terms of speaking out on issues affecting indigenous people. Yet he was genuinely kind. "Don't let the gentlemanly side fool you," Frances said. "He was sharp as a blade. He knew what he wanted and he did it by shaking your hand."

Little had worked with outback indigenous charity since before the 1972 Tent Embassy in Canberra, spoken out for Aboriginal self-management, and helped Charles Perkins on the Freedom Rides, collecting evidence of unofficial apartheid in country Australia such as when the Mooree Spa Baths refused him entry on racial grounds. Ever constant was his soothing music, and not surprisingly, the public voted him 1964's Australian Pop Star of the Year in Everybody's magazine.

The crooner continued to weave his magic, extending to his versions of tracks recorded by other Australians, such as the 1999 Messenger album, which went gold. Another of his reinventions was Resonate in 2001.

Little was also active in "giving back" to his community. In his final months, he cheered the arrival of the Big Purple Truck, to provide mobile renal dialysis to Central Desert communities through partnerships with his not-for-profit Jimmy Little Foundation. He had also worked with far-flung communities since 2006 in teaching healthy eating through the "Thumbs Up" initiative, assisted by his long-term manager and drummer, Buzz Bidstrup.

Little, who was declared a National Living Treasure in 2004, was also awarded three honorary doctorates by Australian universities, and honoured at the Mo Awards, the ARIAs, the Deadlys and elsewhere, and appeared in films, plays and operas.

He was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2004 "for service to the entertainment industry as a singer, recording artist and songwriter and to the community through reconciliation and as an ambassador for indigenous culture".

Elders are bringing sand from Little's birthplace to be buried with him at Walgett, where he will lie with his wife, Marjorie. A small private service tomorrow will be followed by a state memorial service at the Sydney Opera House.

Little is survived by his daughter, Frances, his niece, opera soprano Deborah Cheetham (who wrote Pecan Summer about the Cumeragunja Walk-Off before she realised her parents had been involved), and extended family.

His grandson, James Henry, is performing at the Malthouse in Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word until April 14.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Thank you Jimmy Little

Dr Jimmy Little AO was buried today at Walgett with his sweetheart Marjorie and some sands from his Cumeragunja birthlands. When I have a link to the obituary I wrote for him in The Age I will post it. Thanks you Jimmy for showing us that louder wasn't better, that exquisite expression wasn't just for poets, that love was the ultimate message from the kindest messenger we could hope for. Your versions of songs rewrite them. You built sturdy bridges made for every colour of feet. Vale.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Paper Trail

Ah yes, the Planeteers (or some of them - Pepperell missed out this time) by Planet/The Digger/Rolling Stone Australia art director Ian McCausland. Far too flattering of me! But captures the vibe superbly.

The ABC RN Hindsight doco Paper Trail is now up on the websiste. Link is on the title above here. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did the making. What a blast getting to do this! And a wonderful opportunity to remember those days and the great papers. Apologies to those who contributed so much, like Colin Talbot, especially as early go-to administrator at The Digger for instance, Jan Flett at Planet and Greg Taylor at RAM, who due to time constraints have not been painted into this limited portrait. More images on the website/podcast.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bit sad, bit glad ... Seems I've finished Paper Trail, the Hindsight program I've been working on part-time for a while now. Features .Daily Planet, Planet, The Digger, Nation Review and RAM.

And Andrew McMillan, Michael Leunig, Germaine Greer, Mungo MacCallum, Richard Walsh, David N. Pepperell, Virginia Fraser, Terry Cleary, Alistair Jones, Anthony O'Grady, Phillip Frazer and more and more ... I feel overwhelmed. At last I cried for Andrew -RIP. Will let you know when the program is going to air.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Melbourne - fireworks taking themselves too literally

2012 was the first New Year I woke to where both my kids were staying off elsewhere, separately doing their own things with their own friends at their own parties. It was a bountiful eve, driving Sienna up into the tangling hills of Research, hairpin bends writhing like a a cut snake, moon a cantelope slice hanging fat near the horizon in the warm air, pygmy possum eyes glowing overhead as we climbed and climbed and I left her at a high stone gate with friends and wound back down and home to absolute peace and solitude. Just loved it. In the afternoon of 1/1/12 went over to my lover's and we spent a sensational day partying, dancing, singing and whatnot ... Lots of whatnot. A very happy 2012 to all of you.